Upgrade for Shinnecock shellfish hatchery

Ruben Bess Valdez, aquaculture consultant to the Shinnecock

Ruben Bess Valdez, aquaculture consultant to the Shinnecock Tribal Nation, stands by Heady Creek, by the tribe's oyster hatchery. (Credit: Randee Daddona)

The Shinnecock Indian Nation's shellfish hatchery, a pioneer in the use of solar power to cultivate oysters and clams but in drastic need of modernization, will get a 21st century face-lift under an agreement signed Friday with the Peconic Institute.

The 35-year-old hatchery on the tribe's Southampton reservation has suffered environmental, structural and financial setbacks over the years, but continues to cultivate shellfish in spawning tanks in a weathered building on Shinnecock Bay.

The tribe signed a memorandum of understanding with the institute, a not-for-profit group that encourages sustainable practices, to modernize the hatchery to make it more resistant to moisture and hurricane winds while reducing its carbon footprint by using solar, wind and tidal energy, officials said at a meeting Friday at the Shinnecock tribal museum.

Ruben Bess Valdez, an aquaculture consultant for the nation who has operated the facility with manager Herman Quinn through its existence, said his ambition is to expand the hatchery beyond the millions of oysters and hard- and soft-shell clams it cultivates to include fin fish.

"I anticipate it will be a nice collaboration," he said.

The Peconic Institute and the tribe will apply for federal economic development grants that could cover 100 percent of the costs of the project under a Native American tribal grant, said Frank Dalene, the institute's treasurer.

Available grants are for up to $3 million, he said, though he expects the budget will come in well under that number.

The tribe's newly elected trustees, including chairman Daniel Collins, were on hand at the tribal museum on Montauk Highway to announce the collaboration, along with Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor).

Collins said the tribe's hope is to cultivate an economic development project that can benefit future generations. "It's all about what we pass on to our children," he said.

The work is expected to be a local job producer for tribal members, with input from Stony Brook University's Advanced Energy and Technology Center and Brookhaven National Laboratory.

"It's always about jobs, and creating jobs for the people who live here," said LaValle, adding that he expects the hatchery revitalization project to be the first of other collaborations.

"It's about reclaiming the land, the water, and, more importantly, it's about people working together," said the Rev. Michael Smith of the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church.

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